Thursday, January 09, 2014

History of Humankind

I have written a lot about Prof Harari's lectures in his course A Brief History of Humankind, but having completed the course, I thought I would add a few thoughts on my takeaways.

(1)There a lots of open questions about the relations between the various human variants that existed before H. sapiens replaced all the others, and about the biological basis of the developments that propelled our increasingly rapid technological progress.

(2)Technological advance has not always been our friend. The central development of our history, the agriculture, allowed us to proliferate, but left us in many ways less healthy, more disease ridden, more subject to violence and oppression, and quite possibly, less happy. It also made us one of the most important players in the global ecology. Much of this was not new to me, but some was.

(3)I had drastically underestimated the role of empires in creating the world of today. Almost everyone in the world today lives in a culture that was shaped by the big empires of the past. For most of us, our history is of one conquest after another. Culturally, but also to significant degree, biologically, we are both conquered and conqueror.

(4)The human race is very likely hurtling toward a future so different from the past that calling it "The Singularity" is not a crazy notion. In Harari's definition that means that technological, biological and cultural change will be so rapid and total that we can't predict it in any meaningful way. This was a very difficult notion for me to accept, but I have come to suspect that it is correct.